The Halligan & its Mechanical Advantages for Forcible Entry

The most used and go to tool in the fire service as we all know is the Halligan. The Halligan as we know is used for “everything” from forcing a door to searching a room, making purchase points in vehicle extrication to wall breaches and clearing windows for ventilation or a possible egress. You name it and a Halligan bar will probably be a tool of choice for any job on the fire ground, if not the tool of choice. Every apparatus has one or more on them for a reason, so it’s best we know not only what it’s used for but also know the bar.

Being able to use a Halligan for multiple purposes on the fire ground is wonderful but knowing the dimensions of the Halligan can offer firefighters more of an advantage when using the tool especially during forcible entry.  

But first let’s start with the bar’s history.

The Halligan was invented by Deputy Chief Hugh A. Halligan of the FDNY in the 1940s. Hugh Halligan was first appointed chief of the FDNY on June 16, 1916. Prior to the Halligan, the tools of choice or its predecessors as we could call it were the Claw tool and the Kelly tool. The Claw tool was considered one of the FDNY’s first forcible entry tools. The downside to this tool was its weight and the off-centered striking surface that made it dangerous for the firefighter holding the tool as it was being driven into a door.

The next tool was choice was the Kelly tool which was developed by the then captain of Ladder Company 163, John Kelly. Unlike the Claw tool, the Kelly tools striking surface was inline with the bar and had a 90 degree flat surface (adze end). Similarly to Claw tool, the Kelly tool was also welded and still heavy and due to both tools specific advantages, both were to be used during fire ground operations.

This is where Chief Halligan came in and wanted to develop a tool that could be held in one hand, wouldn’t break or crack and would not fatigue a firefighter while using it. This was the birth of the Halligan bar. The bar was made of cross-drop forged from one piece of No. 4140 high carbon content steel. As soon as the tool was available on the market it was a huge success that the Boston Fire Department was one of the first departments to place a Halligan bar on every ladder company in the department.

Today most of us use the modern take on the Halligan or the Pro Bar as it is called, which is the one tool that has stayed most true to original specs of the Halligan bar. It is fabricated from one piece of drop forged steel and measures 30 inches in length. The forks have a tapered V shape of space between them along with a gradual curve for leverage when prying. The adze end and pick also have a gradual curve for more of an advantage as well.

The dimensions of the Halligan bar

A standard Halligan is 30 inches in overall length. It consists of an adze end, a pick and a fork (or claw). The fork is 6 inches in length and the crotch of the fork is 5 inches – this is key for conventional forcible entry. The adze end is also 6 inches in length and 2 inches wide. The pick is 6 inches in length and the adze/pick triangle is 5 inches tall.  

Now that we know the dimensions of the Halligan bar, how will this help us in forcible entry?

Using the Adze end

More often than not when dealing with outward swinging doors, we will look to gap, crush or tunnel the door between the door (above the lock) and the jamb using the adze end of the Halligan in doing so and moving the tool up or down offering a 15:1 mechanical advantage with a maximum spread of 2 inches (width of the adze). The 15:1 MA is from the 30 inch Halligan bar and the 2 inch adze end of the bar. When forcing an outward swinging door it is advantageous to pry down on left side opening doors and pry up on right side opening doors. The key is to roll up in the direction opposite the pick to gain maximum leverage.

Forcing inward swinging doors is done in the same fashion as outward swinging doors except the Halligan is used in a different position yet the mechanical advantages will remain the same.

Using the adze end is similar to a class I lever. This is where the fulcrum placed between the effort and load. The movement of the load is in the opposite direction of the movement of the effort and the most typical lever configuration. Fulcrum or pivot point is the point on which an object balances or turns.

Using the Fork

When driving the fork between the door and the frame, the fork should be driven 3 inches past the edge of the door frame creating fulcrum. This will put our load on the Halligan at the 5 inch mark (the length of the crotch of the Halligan) at the door jamb, resulting in a load to fulcrum length of 2 inches. The more we drive our Halligan into the jamb the less we of a mechanical advantage we have when using the tool.

Using the fork is similar to a class II lever. This is where the load is between the effort and the fulcrum. In this, the movement of the load is in the same direction as the effort.

Work hard, stay safe and live inspired. 

About the Author

NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 14 years of service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.